Recently, an online commentator who goes by the handle Black Pigeon Speaks (BPS) gave a rather jaundiced assessment on the state of the U.S. military in 2023. In a video similar to two others he has done in the past about what he’s called “the rise of the American Empire,” he notes how, since the end of World War 2, America had been the dominant power in the bi-polar struggle against communist totalitarianism during the Cold War. However, after the Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union collapsed and one by one Eastern Europe rid themselves of their communist overlords, it was American alone that stood at the pinnacle of world power.

This era of a Pax Americana brought us the much vaunted peace dividend of the 1990’s which saw the rise of the internet, GPS, and other high-tech innovations. However, according to BPS this also changed America’s character so that “for decades now the United States has gone full imperial and it has lost any pretense on hiding it.” These changes came about gradually and as a result oftwo modern realities.

The first began with the end of the military draft in 1973, which had been the main driver of all of the social and political unrest during the Vietnam War era. While the move to an all-volunteer military eliminated the specter of sending unwilling soldiers to fight and die in far away wars, it also created a “political leadership that was no longer or will no longer have to face popular dissent.” This in turn inclined, over time, our political leaders to become “more prone to military adventurism as evidenced by all of the endless interventions of the United States military into countries with seemingly no goals or even exit strategies.”

This penchant for military “adventurism” led to the second factor that gradually changed our national character. According to BPS, our military is now “built on the foundation of a paid warrior ideal, and in doing so has become increasingly divorced from the general population.” Moreover, in addition to the “end of what was called the citizen soldier” the United States has also seen “the rise of a mercenary class who fights along side its professional military.” The notorious Blackwater company (which has been renamed Constellis Holdings) comes to mind, as well as the not-so-notorious American founded Mozart Group which was formed as a Ukrainian counterpart to Putin’s private military contractors, the Wagner Group.

Thus, in the words of BPS, we are now an “American Empire” that is now fully beholden to the military-industrial complex that we were all warned about, which makes use of the nation’s professional armed forces and “privatized mercenaries” to project its influence across the globe. Meanwhile, as Americans were are encouraged to thank veterans for their service, especially on days like today and Veterans day, in addition to lauding those who’ve been willing to put on the uniform to defend their country, despite the fact that the United States “has not seen a credible threat against our homeland for over two centuries.”

A Patriotism that is Jaded by not Jilted

Needless to say, the preceding presentation of the current state of America’s military and its place in the world, is a starkly cynical one. However, he is not wrong in reflecting a cultural mood where trust in our government’s institutions is at an all-time low, but especially the military with its woke diversity training and drag queen recruitment ads. Furthermore, the constant barrage of “bread and circuses” (virtual or real) have had deleterious effect of distracting the population away from the fact that our 20-year long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan came to ignominious ends or that the Unites States is still at war or preparing for war in many foreign lands across the globe.

Nevertheless, while the state of American patriotism may seem rather jaded to some, it has not been fully jilted by most Americans. After all, even for someone who looks askance at America’s empire-like presence around the world, it is hard to deny that it serves a purpose by quelling or keeping at bay the hostile and chaotic forces in the world. In fact, I am often moved to ask your average default-liberal, woke slacktivist, or nativist libertarian, “Is there another nation you would trust to patrol the seas and skies?” China perhaps?

However, the main thing I find lacking in BPS’ vision of the world is in how it seems to reduce soldiers (government or private) to mere cogs in a “systematic” or “institutionalized” view of the world. For while there are elements of truth in his analysis of the current state of affairs, when it comes to the men and women of the U.S. armed forces, we are talking about real people. Distinct individuals who are our friends and family- grandparents, parents, children, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles.

People with ideas and motivations all their own, who were and are fully aware of the Realpolitik realities of the world and Byzantine machinations of some of its leaders, yet still chose to sacrifice a portion of their lives to serve their nation. Of course some of them made the ultimate sacrifice and lost their lives as a result of their service. And whether one believes they died to defend freedom and the Constitution or drag queen story hours and trans-national corporate interests, they still did it out of sense of duty and service. Something that cannot be said about huge swaths of the American population.

It is their lives and their stories that we remember and honor today on Memorial Day. With that in mind I will leave you with one such story. When they were not singing about saving horses and riding cowboys, getting “lost in the moment” or sticking progress “where the sun don’t shine” the country duo Big and Rich (Big Kenny and John Rich) composed and performed a song in 2006 called “8thof November.”

The song came out of an encounter they had with a fan named Niles Harris who was a soldier in the Army’s 173rdAirborne Brigade during the Vietnam War. Harris was wounded in 1965 during Operation Hump in South Vietnam when he and his fellow soldiers were ambushed by over 1,200 Vietcong soldiers. Harris and others were saved by Army medic Lawrence Joel who was the first African-American soldier since the Spanish-American war to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Harris told Big and Rich about how on every November 8th, the anniversary of the battle he, “puts on a grey suit over his Airborne tattoo and he ties it on one time a year, and remembers the fallen, as he orders a tall one and swallows it down with his tears” as he honors the 48 soldiers who were killed that day when “the angels were crying as they carried his brothers away.” Harris gave Big Kenny his army top hat and in exchange Big and Rich wrote the “8thof November” and got Kris Kristofferson to narrate its music video. Finally, in a true gesture of friendship and healing, Big and Rich flew Harris back to Vietnam where they met and reconciled with some old Vietcong soldiers, as well as burying his old combat boots (which he still had) in the ground at the site of the battle.

So on this Memorial Day, whether it is larger or small, whether in the open like Big and Rich or in private like Niles Harris, let us take a moment of silence or prayer and honor those who have fallen in our nation’s wars.

Photo Credit- Twitter- Big and Rich

But that is not what they are. Those soldiers are still our Fathers or mothers, siblings, children or good friends.

And there is a truth to the fact that our defense of the nation is not a credible threat, but that does not really mean that we are safe with the advent of 4thgenerational warfare where information and the ability to use it are more powerful that any armed invasion of even a nuclear strike. A cyber strike could, a GPS hack and an off-the shelf drone could cause more fear than some nuclear strike.